Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Black Actor and Skin Color

Halle Berry and Denzel Washington

Recently, I had a discussion with another black actor about skin color and the movies. We agreed that lighter skinned black actors are favored over darker actors. Take a look at mixed race actors like Halle Berry and Terrence Howard. They get more work and better roles.

I remember the first time I saw the late Bernie Mac on a sitcom. He had a small role in which he was ridiculed by another black person because of his dark complexion.

It’s like this, when you say ‘black’ we black actors tend to get lumped into one group. But in reality, we have been broken down into several based on our skin tones. So for instance, in most commercials and magazine ads you will see lighter blacks used. But in ghetto scenes they go for darker skinned actors. Black villains are also darker.

I have heard some film folks justify using light skinned black actors or not using blacks at all. The excuse, “It’s difficult to light black people especially if they are in the same scene with whites”. So, what’s the real problem? Is it that people don’t want to take time to work on lighting? Or is it really something subtly engrained into people’s minds?

Now, why are blacks different shades? It’s mostly because of the legacy of slavery. African slaves being forced to bear their white masters children and then being brought up believing that lighter is better. People opted to have light skinned babies believing that they would have a better life. In most black families you will find people of different shades with different hair textures as well (and hair texture is another issue). If you want proof, just look at photos of real African slaves and what their descendants look like. The slaves were much darker while their descendants are lighter. The lighter you are the more mixing there was. I know people don’t like talking about slavery, but it is part of our history and should not and cannot be ignored or forgotten

But it’s not just the way that whites see us. Even we black people have issues with skin tone. Again, it’s because of the legacy of slavery. The ‘high yellow’ lighter skinned blacks were treated much better than the darker blacks. This is highlighted in Spike Lee’s film School Daze.

Well, I’m just grazing the issue today. I’d love to hear your views.

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